How to Find Technical Cofounders

As a non-technical entrepreneur, one of the toughest things (and perhaps most critical) is to find the right technical cofounder(s). Clearly, not all developers are born equal: both in terms of technical and business experience. But people still tend to toss the word “CTO” around like it’s a badge of honor. Just exactly what should a fledgling tech company look for in a CTO?

When the product is in the inception stage, a “CTO” is someone who can prototype quickly. There are different schools of thought as to whether prototypes should be built with future technology choices in mind: at EyeCue, we tend to avoid rebuilding if necessary. The important thing is that the person can take the design and put together the initial experience quickly.

Coupling the fact that the project is at ground zero and there is a strong desire to build out the initial concept quickly, it’s very tempting to just engage with anyone who seems to be interested in building anything at all. The paradox lies in the fact that having a non-technical person vetting a technical person is really like shopping for a auto mechanic when you know nothing about cars. Worse yet, if you commit to the wrong person(s), it will have a ripple effect that can ultimately have devastating consequences to your product, your growing technical team, or both.

So what can one do to make a more educated decision? Let’s start with the most obvious trait – personality.

Most successful CTOs will have strong opinions about the choices they make, but these opinions tend to come from a very grounded, empirical source. At the early stages, the right CTO tends to take the latest information into consideration and build the product with the possibility of change in mind. Steer clear of people who make promises quickly, before the product is built. Beyond all else, they must be curious and be obsessed about how to make the product a success.

Next stop: know your technologies.

The web has matured in the last 10 years to the point that you can develop almost anything with any set of technologies. But being locked in on something just because “this is what the CTO knows” tends to be more problematic in the long run. Of course, we cannot claim to know the “perfect match,” but the following are EyeCue’s general recommendations based on our collective experience:

  • Big-Data, Predictive Science: PostgreSQL/Hadoop, Python/Ruby
  • Social Network/Lifestyle: PostgreSQL/MongoDB, Node.JS/Ruby/PHP
  • Enterprise Applications: Microsoft SQL/PostgreSQL, C#/Ruby/Java
  • eCommerce: MySQL/PostgreSQL, Node.JS/Ruby/PHP

Found someone? Give them a test drive.

By test drive, I don’t mean to get them to do work for free. There are a number of ways to see if your prospective CTO can both talk the talk and walk the walk. One simple way is to have them talk about technology decisions with other technical folks. At EyeCue, we go through this very process with the decision makers during our initial Product Discovery meeting. Our goal here is never to create competition, but to collaboratively come up with the best plan for the product. Observe how your CTO articulate the general plan in front of other experienced and non-biased technologists and it should become clear whether you’ve found the right person or not.

So great, you are ready to go. Just exactly where do you find these potential candidates and how do you convince them to join your team? That is a tale for another time.